Well, I have to say that I am feeling rather better about myself this weekend than last having had a successful first week on my Dickens course and not too bad a week in the book world otherwise either.
The Dickens course got off to a flying start with a week looking at representations of the city in literature of the period up to the early nineteenth century. I got myself worked up into a lather over the constant depiction of the city as a place of sin, mainly because I wanted to know who decided what constituted a sin and I’m afraid I rather lowered the tone of the discussion board by quoting the opening lines of Michael Hurd’s canata for children Jonah Man Jazz. Do you know it? The opening goes:
Nineveh city was a city of sin,
The jazzing and the jiving made a terrible din,
Beat groups playing rock and roll,
And the Lord when he heard it said, “Bless my soul”.
I wanted to know whether or not it would have been a different matter if they had been singing Bach cantatas. It seems to me that in a lot of the cases that were coming up for discussion the question wasn’t one of sin but of the maintenance of the current power balance: People A saying to People B, “Your behaviour threatens our hold on power, therefore your behaviour is sinful. Yippee! That means we can legitimately wipe you out”.
We haven’t got far enough for me to argue the specific case yet, but I don’t think Dickens thought of the city as sinful per se. Rather it was the institutions that were embedded in it that concerned him and that is certainly an issue to do with power.
I haven’t got through quite as much reading as I’d hoped, but at least it is underway. I’m halfway through Oliver Twist and find myself thinking yet again about the disservice that adaptations can do to a book. OK, I love the musical, Oliver, but really it doesn’t do much more than pay lip service to the original. I think there was a rather more recent television dramatisation. I must try and get hold of a copy of that. The prescribed editions of Bleak House, Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend arrived on Friday. They weigh in at around 800 pages apiece! I am going to have to put some serious reading time to one side. The required edition of Oliver Twist is out of print. Naughty!!!
Otherwise, I have finished Sarah Hall’s latest novel Wolf Border, which I thought was a very good read but didn’t actually deserve quite the level of praise I’ve heard for it. Certainly, I don’t understand why there were calls for it to be on the Booker list. Nevertheless, I shall go back and read her earlier work and I’ve added her to my list of authors to explore when I want something that isn’t going to be particularly taxing.
Having taken that back to the library my late evening reading has been the most recent Rennie Airth crime novel, The Reckoning. I wonder if you’ve come across Airth. He publishes only infrequently, but I think this series, centred around John Madden, once of the Metropolitan Police and now a farmer who still gets caught up in police affairs, is excellent and that Airth certainly deserves to be better known. The earlier novels are set in the interwar period and during WWII, but this one takes us just beyond, into 1947. Compared with most police procedurals they are quite books, but full of psychological insight. If you like Laura Wilson’s Stratton series then you will enjoy these.
Prologues and Epilogues
Completely coincidentally, given what I posted about on Wednesday, I was at a seminar session this week led by Tiffany Stern concerning the beginnings and endings of Early Modern plays. She was asking which items should be included when she prepares a new edition of a play. Prologues and epilogues yes, but what about things like trumpet calls? And which dances are part of the end of the play and which are a completely separate entity? It is a difficult question. I can explain what is happening linguistically, but knowing that it’s a question of what is a separate particle and what is part of a shared wave doesn’t help the desperate editor. She did, however, offer another example of an epilogue appearing at the beginning of a play, although in this instance it never pretends to be anything other than the epilogue. In the printed edition of John Mason’s play The Turke, the epilogue is on the left hand side of the page as the frontispiece is on the right. Just to make sure that the reader knows that this isn’t a case of the printer not knowing what an epilogue is the hard pressed workman has included the note,
This epilogue should have been printed at the end of the book but there was no spare place for it.
Apparently, Mason got it to the publisher so late that all the other pages had already been set and the only possible place to put it was on what is normally a blank page right at the very front.
These writers! You can’t rely on them for anything!